THE OFFICIAL BLOG
Cattle and fences
We started the new year, as we always do, with an ambitious plan. We decided it was time for a complete overhaul of the use of our land. Although we love the idea of waiting for our livestock to shape and change our rocky and heavily wooded property, we are mortal and only have so much time on this earth to get things done.
Part of our plan was to have a professional with heavy machinery come in to clear the brush and smaller trees on the three acres on either side of our long drive. However, the extreme rockiness of our land proved too much for a couple days work and we were left with a bit of a mess by the time spring rolled around. Undaunted (mostly), we forged on with making a nice, new wooded lot for our little fold of Highland cattle. It would not be as large as we had intended, but featured lots of lovely shade for summer and would be nearly rock free for heavy cow hooves. Also, it would be close enough to our hay storage area to provide them with an entire bale of hay periodically.
We long passed the point of temporary pens and fences and very much want to make sure that we spend our time on projects that will endure for many years to come. We took our time making sure our cattle panel fencing was neat and well-joined. Posts were driven straight and solid. Gates were hung nicely on good hinges and heavy chain. Only the best for our cows, and all that.
An incredibly long and miserable season of rain stopped progress for weeks. Our cow paradise was on hold well into the heat of summer. By the time we were able to get back to it, the brush had grown up and we had to designate someone as a lookout for snakes as we worked, but we DID work in spite of it. And it was beautiful. It was clear and flat and full of cow enrichment possibilities -- trees to scratch on, little shrubs to nibble, brush piles to headbutt, and an entire fresh bale of grass hay in a lovely grove of hickory trees with the stock tank nearby. Can you hear the birds chirping in my mind? It was perfect.
To me. It reminds me of all those times I spent hours making houses out of cardboard boxes for my cats, really. I cut out little windows and doors and made planters for their porches full of cat nip. The cats were not interested. Apparently, I learned nothing from that experience.
We had these cattle for just over a year before they were moved into cow paradise one sunny afternoon. In all of those months, we never had an escape attempt. And a good thing that was, considering just how flimsy our fences were. (At one point, they were even deterred by nothing but some green plastic snow fence wired to a couple floppy t-posts.) There WAS that one time that our oldest cow got a little overenthusiastic when reaching for hay on the outside of the fence and basically walked right over it... but she didn't leave. No one left. They liked it here.
I think they hated cow paradise.
Within the first 48 hours, three of them escaped. Two had wandered far into the woods on the road side of the property. In the meantime, our bull was wandering around in the driveway as if he had nothing better to do. So, they had found the weak part in our fencing. We knew there would be bumps along the way. It was all very normal. We brought them in and repaired the fence. But there were a couple more short break-outs within the next few days, followed by a dramatic prison-break which brought one of our neighbors to the door one morning telling me they were on the loose. They had walked out... past several bales of hay and plenty of fresh grass on the easement.... and were on their way to parts unknown.
The question in my mind is: "Why?" But I don't think I will ever think like a cow. We gave up after that final adventure and moved them back to their small pen behind the barn. In the meantime, we moved our donkeys to cow paradise and it pleases me to say that the donkeys seem content there. The cows are content as well so far - at least happier than they were when we put too much effort into their surroundings.
Plans for 2022 continue with the intention to eventually add an adjoining area to their existing pen -- in the hopes that they won't mind adventuring a little closer to home.